Magazine article The Futurist

Money from Trees: Rising Support for Carbon Caps Means New Choices for Farmers and Landowners

Magazine article The Futurist

Money from Trees: Rising Support for Carbon Caps Means New Choices for Farmers and Landowners

Article excerpt

Growing food and raising livestock contribute more carbon dioxide to the Earth's atmosphere than does transportation, according to the United Nations.

Agriculture is one of the leading causes of deforestation, a key global warming contributor. By some estimates, 35% of the Earth's surface (not under ice) is devoted to food production, primarily livestock cultivation. Bio-waste from cows, goats, pigs, and other livestock accounts for roughly 37% of the methane in the atmosphere. Carbon production is intimately linked to many farming and ranching practices. The two are not easily separated. Yet, ranchers will probably be among the first to profit from tomorrow's low-carbon economy.

In a new Duke University report titled Harnessing Farms and Forests in the Low-Carbon Economy, scientists from universities across the United States provide a guide to help farmers and landowners tap into and trade their lands' precious carbon-storing properties.

"Farmers can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sequester it as soil carbon by changing tillage practices," the editors write in the introduction. "If farmers and forest landowners can be compensated for their actions to reduce emissions or sequester greenhouse gases, they can benefit economically from these efforts."

Using low-till or no-till farming practices and raising smaller animals that produce less waste (such as sheep instead of cows) have measurable impacts on reducing carbon output. Today's farmers and ranchers also have the option of converting their land to carbon depositories or "sinks," by allowing trees to grow larger before logging or by replanting grasslands and forests.

But is there any money in it?

"Recent studies by Kansas State University and others have indicated that carbon [offsets] could be an $8 billion market for agriculture," reports Dick Wittman, a member of the Agricultural Carbon Market Working Group.

The Low-Carbon Economy

However slowly or subtlety, the transition toward a low-carbon economy is already under way. Some 35 developed countries have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, vowing to reduce their carbon output by 5% to 8% below 1990 levels. One of the most popular methods for meeting reduction goals is the cap-and-trade system, wherein regulators set a total carbon allowance, or "cap," for carbon emitters such as electric utilities, factories, or, in the case of the Kyoto Protocol, entire nations. …

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